The Railway Labor Act (RLA) governs labor disputes at airlines, railroads, and some contractors. The contractors covered by the RLA must be under the control of, and performing the same functions as, an airline or railroad. The National Labor Relations Act governs disputes in other industries, including airline and railroad contracts that are not subject to the RLA.

The NLRB recently refused to review a decision ruling that the cleaning employees of an airline contractor were covered by the NLRA and not the RLA. This decision demonstrates that contractors who provide cleaning, baggage handling, wheelchair assistance, and other similar services are independent from the airlines and control their own business and labor relations policies. The National Mediation Board (NMB), which enforces the RLA, has recently chosen not to assert jurisdiction over airline service contractors. That decision paved the road for the NLRB to continue its trend toward expanding its jurisdiction into areas previously occupied by courts and other judicial tribunals.